My period, my frenemy: How I got over the self-hate and learnt to welcome it

Getting your period is a very important part of becoming a woman. It's something we're supposed to announce to the entire world and then never speak about.
My period, my frenemy: How I got over the self-hate and learnt to welcome it
My period, my frenemy: How I got over the self-hate and learnt to welcome it
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Period love stories have swords and horses, kings and queens. But this one doesn't. It does have bloodshed though.

It's about how I started to be comfortable around my period. No, I cannot say that I fell in love with it. This is not that kind of love story where people are so intense that they stare into each other's eyeballs all day and forget to eat. I've never forgotten to eat in my entire life.

This is the kind of love story where two people meet, decide they don't like each other after four days of hanging out together, part ways, meet again after a month...and then, years and years later, they figure out that actually, they don't mind being around each other any more. They've fallen into a relaxed friendship that needn't be explained to the world.

When I met my period, I was in Class VI. Gasp. I already knew what it was because an older cousin had told me everything there was to know about it. Also, I was the sort who diligently read women's magazines when growing up. I had access to a great deal of information considered relevant for women - from knowing how to please your man with strawberries (I hadn't seen a strawberry yet) to how to clean your windows and manage menstrual cramps.

In school, the teacher had drawn the reproductive system on the board and explained the science to us. Obviously, I did not care about where my fallopian tubes were located. The dry biology lessons did not offer the same excitement of the women's magazines that told me what it meant to be a grown-up, a woman.

Getting your period is a very important part of becoming a woman. It's something we're supposed to announce to the entire world and then never speak about. I grew up in an atheist household, so we did not follow any ritual when I got my first period. However, everyone in the family was informed about it. My uncles bought me gold earrings, as if I had accomplished something remarkable. I was a little amused by the attention, considering nobody gave my brother anything when his voice broke or when he grew his first moustache.

The period itself was quite disappointing, as people often are when you meet them after having heard so much about them. It was first spotty, then it couldn't stop pouring out of me. Like a poet who has starting trouble but then writes an epic in verse. I went to school with a bulky sanitary napkin wedged between my legs, feeling very much like a hen. I told all my friends about it, of course. I was the first in my friends circle to get the period and I felt compelled to answer all their questions. I also told one of my teachers that I'd gotten my period though in retrospect, I have no idea why I thought I must share this with her.

I stained my school uniform on Day 2. I remember my mother waiting anxiously for me to return from school, wondering how I'd have managed. I didn't even realise that I'd stained my uniform. But seeing the red smears, I felt something akin to shame. I became more careful about it after that, going to the toilet at regular intervals to check if the pad was intact. In those days, we did not have the ultra thin, ultra absorbent pads that we do now. They had to be changed frequently and even if you were doing it in the girls' toilet, nobody could know that you had your period. You had to be discreet. As if you were having an affair with the neighbour.

Since we were not religious, I was not prevented from entering the kitchen when I had my period. We didn't have a puja room, so the question of whether I was allowed to step into it did not arise. But disposing the pad was always an elaborate ritual - there were two men in the house, my brother and father, and the pad had to be thrown in such a way that nobody should know what was inside. First, it was to be rolled in the covering it came in. Then newspaper. Then plastic cover. Something like the desserts people make on Masterchef these days: layered and complex. The packet of sanitary napkins was bought from the shop (wrapped in newspaper) and then hidden inside the cupboard, under a bunch of clothes, in case a nosy guest opened the cupboard and died of a heart attack, seeing the offensive object. 

At school, a popular company that manufactures sanitary napkins gave us a session on menstruation, but not before all the boys were sent out to play games. We were given a questionnaire on how we manage our periods (by this time, most of us had got it), a marketing exercise for which nobody asked for our consent. After the session, we were given free samples of sanitary pads. I remember the boys laughing about the whole thing and one of them asking me what they'd given us. "A laddoo," I remember saying.

Another time, we were taken on a trip to the Tirupathi temple before our board exams. The teachers told the girls not to go if we had our period. I signed up for the trip because my friends were going. I did not want to miss out. I got my period a day before the trip. I did not tell anyone. I went anyway. 

The period was not always unwelcome. When I had no plans of becoming pregnant, its arrival was the sweetest sight to my anxious eyes. I've wept in relief to see it, like those emotional reuinions in aiport scenes in Hollywood films.

Periods, for most women, are uncomfortable. The hormonal changes may make us moody, more hungry, more angry, give us aches and pains. For some women, conditions like endometriosis can make it a nightmare. Some others have period-related issues which they cannot get by without medication. But this is all multiplied several times by the pressure to hide the period. The worry that we may stain our clothes, embarrass ourselves. We cannot talk about it to the people around us. We avoid travel. We avoid playing sports. We avoid going to places that may not have a toilet. We avoid planning family events on such dates. We avoid doing a number of things out of the fear that the world will find out. 

The secrecy leads us to shame, roiling into self-hate. It's easy to hate the period and I did too, at one point. I often wished I could remove my uterus and throw it into the sea. But here's the thing, over the years, I made my peace with it. Part of it has to do with my education, identifying patriarchy, de-conditioning my brain. But part of it also has to do with growing older - when you realise you just don't want to waste any more time trying to pander to other people's opinions about your life. It's why a lot of older women suddenly start wearing whatever the heck they want without worrying about whether it will "suit" them. It's why they eat what they want without thinking about the calorie count for the day. It's why they laugh louder, because it doesn't matter any more that they maintain their feminine mystique. God, it feels great.

The less I cared about people finding out that I was menstruating, the more comfortable I became with my old friend. Besides, I had a baby in between all this and learnt to respect my uterus all the more. I now know where everything inside my body is, including body parts for which I thought I had no use. I know where the fallopian tubes are and I'm glad they are where they are.

I stopped dropping my voice when I said "period" in conversation with someone. I told the pharmacist to stop wrapping the sanitary napkins in newspaper. I stopped hiding it in my cupboard. I shifted to the menstrual cup, requiring me to touch the blood to remove and insert it. I did whatever I wanted, went wherever I wanted when I had my period. And if I stained my clothes, I didn't want to shrivel up and die. I threw them in the washing machine and did a load when convenient.

Like all love stories, mine will come to an end too. We probably have a decade or more left. When we part ways, I hope it will be smooth. I will not weep. Like all good relationships, this one has taught me a lot. Mostly about myself. And I am thankful.

(Views expressed author's own)

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